The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international organization for certification of forestry and forest products. Its aim is to encourage environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests. The FSC consists of representatives from the forest industry, environmental organizations and social organizations. The first Swedish FSC standard, based on the FSC’s international Principles and Criteria, was introduced in 1998. This standard still applies today (2009), even though it is supposed to be revised every five years.

In Sweden, almost half of the productive forest land, nearly 11 million hectares, is FSC-certified. The biggest forest companies in Sweden are FSC-certified. Accredited certification bodies (CBs), independent of the FSC, verify that the certified companies comply with the FSC standard. The certification bodies are, in turn, reviewed by the company Accreditation Services International (ASI), which monitors the work of the bodies and makes sure that they comply with the rules.

FSC certification is intended as a guarantee that wood and paper products come from sustainable forest management, enabling consumers to make an active and environmentally friendly choice. According to the Swedish FSC standard from 1998, old-growth forests and woodland key habitats shall be preserved and various nature conservation measures taken when felling forests.

FSC requirements

According to the Swedish FSC standard (1998):

•    Old-growth forests, key habitats, wasteland and other non-productive forest land shall be exempt from measures other than the management required to preserve and support the natural biological diversity of the habitat (criterion 6.1.1). The FSC defines old-growth forest as the following: pronounced multi-aged, multi-layered natural forest with an abundance of old trees and large dead wood in different stages of decomposition.

•    At least 5% of the productive forest area is exempted from measures other than the management required to preserve and promote the natural biological diversity of the habitat (criterion 6.1.2).

When felling forests according to the FSC standard, the following nature conservation measures (among other things) shall be taken:

•    Care-demanding patches (small habitats with special biodiversity values and buffer zones adjacent to habitats with special biodiversity values) are left in a way that ensures that larger treeless areas are avoided (criterion 6.5.4);

•    Trees with high biodiversity value (large, old deciduous trees or trees with fire-induced bole scars or similar) should be protected in all measures, and not felled (criterion 6.5.5);

•    At least 10 wind-resistant trees of various species with good chances of developing into large, old trees during the next rotation period, should be left per hectare (criterion 6.5.6);

•    Dead wood is to be protected from forestry measures unless there is a documented risk of mass pest infestations, and some fresh windfall may be removed (criterion 6.5.7);

•    In areas in which red-listed species are known to occur, outside demarcated key habitats, proper consideration shall be given to the living conditions for these species (criterion 6.7.5);

•    Major landowners shall plan their forestry operations with a view to achieving a
balanced age distribution for the landscape ecology, with special consideration given to the proportion of older forest in landscapes with a scarcity of such forest (criterion 6.7.2);

•    Measures are avoided during the spring and early summer – the main reproductive periods of birds and mammals (criterion 6.2.1);

•    Forestry management is carried out in ways that aim to maintain the natural processes of forest soil and its long-term production capacity, and to avoid harm to other ecosystems and biodiversity (criterion 6.4).


FSC in reality


Unfortunately, consumers cannot be certain that Swedish FSC-certified products on the market come from sustainably managed forests. FSC-certified forest companies frequently log old-growth forests and key habitats, and they log forests with poor environmental forestry practices, violating the Swedish FSC standard. Consideration is rarely taken to birds’ breeding seasons, e.g. the playgrounds of the capercaillie (the capercaillie is listed in the EU Birds Directive and Habitats Directive as a species which requires special conservation measures to be taken throughout its range). Most forest companies establish large monocultures and forest plantations and routinely save too low proportions of deciduous trees, care-demanding patches, dead wood and old-growth forests on a landscape level. Large clear-cuts are allowed, as well as fertilization, soil scarification, cleaning of ditches, exotic tree species and pesticides.

The majority of the FSC-certified forest companies have several logged old-growth forests, trees with high biodiversity value and dead wood that has been run over, on their conscience. It is not acceptable that forest companies manage their commitment to the FSC and the forest in this manner. A forest company that continuously violates the standard should not be certified at all. The forest company concerned should immediately lose its FSC certificate. First and foremost, it is the responsibility of the forest companies to make sure that they follow the standard. When they do not, the certification bodies and the FSC must act, which is something they have not done so far. Obvious violations of the FSC standard have not resulted in any serious consequences. This has made it possible for the forest companies to continue to violate the standard undisturbed.

It should be possible for certification bodies and the FSC to suspend companies and to withdraw their FSC-certificates in practice, not only in theory. If a forest company has a previous Major Corrective Action Request (CAR), the most serious complaint a certification body can raise against a FSC-certified forest company, it should lose its FSC-certificate the next time it systematically violates the standard. It should also be possible to report FSC violations when forest companies plan to log old-growth forests and key habitats, before they log the forest.

The certification bodies are contracted by the forest companies, indicating that they are probably not entirely impartial when reviewing the FSC-certified forest companies. The certification bodies should be contracted by an independent body and not by the companies. Until now, the certification bodies have acted indulgently and used a permissive attitude when reviewing areas which have been incorrectly logged and when approving the forest companies’ practices over and over again. The ASI has to use its mandate to withdraw a certification body’s right, as an independent body, to review FSC-certified companies. The certification bodies’ follow-up audits, especially in the field, must be made public to give stakeholders insight into their operations. The field audits must be conducted when the ground is bare from snow and it is possible to detect any deviations from the standard.

Non-functioning FSC

Most FSC crimes that are discovered would have been committed in silence had it not been for environmental organizations and non-profit nature conservationists who inspect the forest companies’ compliance with the FSC standard out in the field. Nobody would have complained, and the forest companies could have continued their loggings as though everything were up to par. It should not be the responsibility of non-profit organizations or single persons to conduct this review. The FSC certification shall in itself guarantee that the forestry follows the requirements of the standard.

Some employees of the FSC, ASI, certification bodies and forest companies claim that obvious violations of the FSC standard can be considered as a matter of interpretation. They point out that the FSC standard can be interpreted in different ways and mean that some violations do not deviate from the standard, even though old-growth forests that houses a number of red-listed species, or trees with high biodiversity value have been felled, or dead wood has been run over. They argue that the FSC standard leaves room for subjective interpretation. Deviations can also be dismissed as mistakes or non-recurring incidents. Protect the Forest questions this way of assessing the FSC standard. How can the standard at all be misinterpreted when it clearly states that old-growth forests shall be exempt from measures other than preservation and natural biological diversity support, and trees with high biodiversity value should be protected in all measures, and not felled? It should not be possible to dismiss obvious violations of the standard as trivial incidents.

The FSC has failed to safeguard biodiversity and prevent old-growth forests from being logged in Sweden. Innumerable companies, including Stora Enso, Bergvik, Holmen Skog, SCA and Sveaskog, have violated the standard over the years. This indicates that the companies do not take the standard seriously; that they simply use the FSC to get more customers, and that the system is too weak. Protect the Forest and other environmental organizations have documented many crimes, but so far, this has not led to any serious consequences for the forest companies involved. It has not led to sufficient improvements of the standard or forestry practices. The Swedish FSC standard, in its present form, is too weak to safeguard and protect Swedish biological diversity and secure the social aspects of the forest.


Requirements are lacking

The FSC standard does not stipulate an extensive review of the forest companies’ general considerations in their forest management practices. Reviews carried out by non-profit nature conservationists show that this consideration often is insufficient. According to the Swedish Forest Agency, 20 per cent of loggings done by forest companies in 2007 did not live up to the low general consideration demands of the Swedish Forestry Act. This, in itself, is a crime against the Swedish FSC standard (criterion 3.1.1).

The Swedish FSC favours forest management practices that lead to biological impoverishment of the forest landscape by converting natural forests to plantations and managed industry forests. FSC should emphasize and encourage alternative ways to curb the loss of biodiversity by safeguarding natural forests, promoting natural regeneration and emphasizing nature-oriented forestry methods in the managed parts of the forest landscape. This includes stronger protection of aquatic environments, more general consideration to trees with high biodiversity value and an increased proportion of dead wood and deciduous trees. The FSC should not allow the transformation of natural forests into plantations and monocultures. Also, extensive restoration work is needed at landscape level to reach the level that is needed to maintain the forest diversity, especially since forests with a high conservation value are scarce. The FSC must develop guidelines for how the appropriate “restoration forests” can be selected – this should especially include older forests, forests mature for logging and deciduous forests with the potential to develop high conservation values.

The FSC standard does not demand total transparency and quality control regarding the forest companies’ voluntarily protected areas. The forest companies, apart from Sveaskog and, until recently, SCA and Holmen Skog (after many years of criticism and pressure from the environmental movement), have strategically chosen not to publish maps of their voluntarily protected areas publicly on the internet. It is therefore not known where many of the voluntarily protected areas are located. Studies have shown that the voluntarily protected areas of the forest companies are often relatively unproductive and of poorer biological quality, reducing the financial loss to the companies. Moreover, the voluntarily protected areas are not protected by law, and can be logged without consequences.

This is a serious issue, since more than half of the Swedish interim target for 2010, “Long-term protection of forest land” (within the environmental quality objective of Sustainable Forests), relies on voluntary protection. The FSC, of course, plays a major role in this. Thus, the Swedish environmental quality objective is not consistent, since these voluntary protection measures do not safeguard forest biodiversity in the long term.

The FSC standard requires that at least 5 per cent of the productive forest area of the certified forest companies is exempted from forestry (as mentioned above), which is better than nothing. But the standard does not guarantee the sustainable use of the forest ecosystems which the FSC pledges to its customers. According to the Swedish Environmental Advisory Council, at least 9-16 per cent of the forest land below the mountain region needs to be protected in the long term, in order to safeguard biological diversity. This level also requires that general nature considerations taken in the managed forests are generous, which is not the case today. Science shows that when only 10-30 per cent (20 per cent) of some species’ original habitat remains intact, their chances of survival are seriously reduced. The state-owned forest company Sveaskog actually has higher ambitions than the FSC, to voluntarily protect 20 per cent of its forests (10 per cent as nature conservation forests), arguing that this is the minimum level required to sustain the more sensitive species. At the same time, the FSC-certified forest company Holmen Skog wants to bring natural regeneration to an end and completely convert to plantation forestry, which threatens the biodiversity in the forest. In other words, it is not enough with 5 per cent voluntary protection.

The Swedish FSC standard does not safeguard any high conservation value forests other than old-growth forests and key habitats. FSC-certified forest companies usually pay most attention to key habitats. Old-growth forests that are not covered by the old-growth forest definition in the Swedish FSC standard are not safeguarded at all. According to the FSC’s international Principles and Criteria, management activities in high conservation value forests (HCVFs) shall maintain or enhance the attributes in such forests. FSC defines HCVFs as:

• Forest areas containing globally, regionally or nationally significant; concentrations of biodiversity values (e.g. endemism, endangered species, refugia); and/or large landscape level forests, contained within, or containing the management unit, where viable populations of most, if not all, naturally occurring species exist in natural patterns of distribution and abundance.

• Forest areas that are in or contain rare, threatened or endangered ecosystems.

• Forest areas that provide basic services of nature in critical situations (e.g. watershed protection, erosion control).

• Forest areas fundamental to meeting basic needs of local communities (e.g. subsistence, health) and/or critical to local communities’ traditional cultural identity (areas of cultural, ecological, economic or religious significance identified in cooperation with such local communities).

The Swedish FSC standard from 1998 does not address the concept of HCVFs. However, the members of the Swedish FSC reached an agreement on a revised national standard in 2009 which safeguards HCVFs, but this standard has not yet been approved and accredited by the FSC.

The end of the FSC?

The idea behind the FSC was to develop forestry towards more sustainable management. Now, more than 10 years have passed since the FSC was introduced in Sweden and companies are still unwilling to protect the last old-growth forests or take the measures needed in managed forests. They refuse to further reduce their potential maximum forest industry profit and take their sector responsibility, which involves a long-term sustainable use of the forests. Ecosystems must be used in a way that allows future generations to enjoy what the ecosystem yields while allowing naturally occurring species to survive in viable populations.

The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and Nature and Youth Sweden have already resigned from the board of the FSC in protest, since they consider the system to operate too poorly. The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation is, however, still a member of the Swedish FSC. Together with Friends of the Earth Sweden, the WWF and the Swedish Ornithological Society, they represent the Environmental Chamber of the Swedish FSC. Protect the Forest is not a member of the FSC and does not want to become a member as long as the standards and the practices of the forest companies are unsustainable and not serious.

There is one way out of the catastrophic situation of the Swedish FSC-system, but it requires the willingness of the forest industry. This is something that is largely missing today. The standard must be developed in consultation with the environmental movement and other stakeholders. Today, the forest industry controls the FSC. The FSC should demand that all forest operators wanting certification or that are already certified shall have a high ambition level in line with recent nature conservation research, similar to the ambition of Sveaskog (20 per cent voluntarily protected areas).

Only forest companies that sincerely want to practise a long-term sustainable forest management in a serious manner should be certified. Violations of the standard must have tangible consequences. The forestry methods used must be environmentally friendly and take ecological, aesthetic, social and economic aspects into account.

Until now, the Swedish FSC has been a big failure for the forest and nature conservation; a failure that will have long-term consequences.